A Christian Response to Christmas
By John Telgren
Romans 12:2 says we are not to be conformed to this world but be transformed by the renewing of our mind. So we no longer think as the world does. We turn our thinking upside down. That means we are not to blindly follow our culture, but evaluate it by our transformed mind. Some things are good, other things are bad, and some things simply do not matter one way or the other. So we need to think theologically. We need to be discerning about everything we do.
What about Christmas? What is it? It means different things to different people. Itís in the air all around us. As a result, it is not unusual for soldiers in battle to cease fighting and exchange gifts with the enemy. It is not unusual for hostages to be allowed to get cards. Itís the one time of year when the family gets together. Those usually mean are nice for awhile. When you hear the word Christmas, you can almost smell the aroma of good food. You can almost feel the warmth and the sparkle. It is a glad and happy time. Some people become aware of those less fortunate and volunteer in soup kitchens or something of that nature. Some will put together dinners in a decorated basket for those who are needy.
Christmas seems to be such a positive thing. What can be wrong with it? Aside from the gross commercialism, what could be wrong with Christmas? There are those who embrace Christmas as a day to remember the birth of Christ. After all, his coming to our planet was a great gift for humankind. Some reject the religious overtones of Christmas and observe it as simply a holiday. Others choose to reject everything about Christmas and do so very vocally. Why all the fuss?
There have been those who have appealed to Jeremiah 10:3 in rejection of Christmas because it condemns Christmas trees:
" For the customs of the peoples are delusion; Because it is wood cut from the forest, The work of the hands of a craftsman with a cutting tool. They decorate it with silver and with gold; They fasten it with nails and with hammers So that it will not totter (Jer 10:3-4)."
It certainly sounds like it could be a Christmas tree. However, there are two problems. First, this cannot be a condemnation of Christmas since Christ was not even born yet. Second, this cannot refer to Christmas trees since the context clearly indicates it is otherwise. Looks at what the passage goes on to say,
"Like a scarecrow in a cucumber field are they, And they cannot speak; They must be carried, Because they cannot walk! Do not fear them, For they can do no harm, Nor can they do any good." There is none like You, O Lord; You are great, and great is Your name in might. Who would not fear You, O King of the nations? Indeed it is Your due! For among all the wise men of the nations And in all their kingdoms, There is none like You. But they are altogether stupid and foolish In their discipline of delusion--their idol is wood! Beaten silver is brought from Tarshish, And gold from Uphaz, The work of a craftsman and of the hands of a goldsmith; Violet and purple are their clothing; They are all the work of skilled men. But the Lord is the true God; He is the living God and the everlasting King. At His wrath the earth quakes, And the nations cannot endure His indignation (Jer 10:5-10)."
So this passage is not talking about a tree at all, but is a condemnation of idols.
There have also been those who have appealed to Galatians 4:10 to reject Christmas, Easter, or any other special day. It says,
"You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain (Gal 4:10-11)."
It certainly seems from these two verses that we should not be observing special days if you read this verse out of context. Step back from the tree to get a look at the forest:
"But when the fullness of the time came, God sent forth His Son, born of a woman, born under the Law, so that He might redeem those who were under the Law, that we might receive the adoption as sons. Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, crying, "Abba! Father!" Therefore you are no longer a slave, but a son; and if a son, then an heir through God.
However at that time, when you did not know God, you were slaves to those which by nature are no gods. But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how is it that you turn back again to the weak and worthless elemental things, to which you desire to be enslaved all over again? You observe days and months and seasons and years. I fear for you, that perhaps I have labored over you in vain (Gal 4:4-10)."
So what Paul is talking about is not merely observance of special days, but of the problem of trying to be justified by observance of the law which included the observances of the festivals.
If you are going to use this passage to reject the setting aside of a day, then you need to consider Romans 14 since it seems to condone this practice with certain stipulations.
"One person has faith that he may eat all things, but he who is weak eats vegetables only. The one who eats is not to regard with contempt the one who does not eat, and the one who does not eat is not to judge the one who eats, for God has accepted him. Who are you to judge the servant of another? To his own master he stands or falls; and he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God Ö But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you regard your brother with contempt? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God (Rom 14:2-10)."
So whether it is the eating of kosher foods, or the not eating of kosher foods what matters is that it is done for the Lord. Whether it is the observance of a day, or seeing every day alike, what matters is that it is for the Lord. We are not to judge a person if he chooses to do this, or chooses not to do this. The passage goes on to stipulate this:
" So then we pursue the things which make for peace and the building up of one another. Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense (Rom 14:19-20)."
So Christians need to consider one another in all they do.
Since we are to evaluate everything we do, we need to consider what Christmas is and what it is about before making a decision. We need to understand it if we are going to be able to respond appropriately and intelligently.
So where did Christmas come from? Many people are not aware that it has been around a lot longer than Christianity. The roots of Christmas reach back far before Christ came to this earth. Ancient Germanic and Celtic tribes held a festival every year in honor of the winter solstice. They worshipped the heavenly bodies such as the sun, moon, stars and the planets for their role in the changing of the seasons. This period of worship was called the "Yule" season. All of this was to commemorate the return of the "burning wheel" (the sun), and to insure the return of spring. As a result they used objects in their worship that were signs of perpetual life, such as holly, mistletoe, evergreen trees and wreaths. All of these pre-Christian relics are still with us today. The difference, of course, is that they have been Christianized.
When Theodosius, the emperor that succeeded Constantine, took the throne, he took Constantineís favorable dispostion toward Christianity another step. While Constantine made Christianity a legal and protected religion, Theodosius outlawed all other religions, making Christianity the only legal religion. As a result, half-converted pagans flooded into the church. So it is easy to see how the pagan symbols related to the winter solstice became infused with Christmas.
There have been those who have rejected Christmas because it had root in paganism. But think about it. Just because a practice had roots in paganism does not mean we are sinning if we practice it. We have many practices that originated from paganism, but over the aeons of time no longer have that meaning. Take weddings for e xample. Here are some of the traditional practices that had their roots in paganism: Throwing rice, having a bridal procession, and the use of lighting of candles. Or what about the names of days of the week and the months of the year that originally honored pagan deities (January for "Janus ", Thursday for "ThorĎs Day", etc.) Does any of this mean you have honored a pagan deity if you have done any of these? Of course not.
So where did the Christian practice of Christmas come from? The earliest instances of celebrations of the birth of Christ were no earlier than the third century. Celebrations of this sort were only sporadic. The reason for these celebrations were likely a reaction to the Gnostic heresy which claimed that Jesus did not come in the flesh. So, to emphasize that Jesus was humans, early Christians had a festival to honor his birth. In the fifth century, bishops of the church ordered the celebration of the nativity using December 25th. It wasnít until much later that the word "Christmas" was used. This came from the Medieval churchís practice of a "Christ Mass."
To sum up an understanding Christmas, we have the following facts.
- We donít know the date when Jesus was born
- The birth of Jesus was not celebrated under the direction of the Apostles of the early church
- Many of the symbols associated with Christmas had pagan roots
Now that we understand what Christmas is and how it originated, is there any scriptural guidance as to how we can best respond to it? Should we say "bah! Humbug!" and reject it all? Should we embrace it with all the customs associated with it? Should we pick and choose which aspects of Christmas to accept, and which to reject?
The first thing to remember is integrity and consistency. It is inconsistent to speak out against Christmas because it is Catholic or denominational, or because it has pagan roots, and then put up a tree. If a person is going to oppose Christmas, then he needs to be consistent. That means opposing ALL of it. This includes the Christmas bonus. This includes the tree, lights, and decorations. This includes taking time off for Christmas vacation. This includes the exchange of gifts. It is inconsistent to oppose Christmas and purposefully reap the benefits of it. Some would even consider it hypocritical. Others would question the integrity of a person with this inconsistency.
The second thing to remember is that this is not a holy day in Godís eyes. We need to remember that there is a difference between a holy day and a holiday. To regard this as a holy day is to regard it in a way God does not.
The third thing to remember is to consider how Christ would deal with this. After all, he is our model and example. So ask the question, "What would Jesus do?" Of course the immediate difficulty with this question is that Christmas simply did not exist. Is there any way to determine what Jesus would do? After all, he was a Jew, and even if Christmas did exist in his lifetime, Jews do not observe Christmas.
However, Jews do observe a special day this time of year. It is called "Hannukah," or "The Feast of Lights," or "The Feast of Dedication." Most Christians know a little about Passover and the Feast of Booths, but nearly nothing about Hunnukah. Why is that? Do they not read their Old Testament enough? If you look for it in the Old Testament, you will not find it. It isnít there. Hannukah has its origins in the Maccabean period of Israelís history. This was directly after the time of Alexander the Great. His kingdom had been divided into various parts. One of the rulers who ruled the area that included Judea was Antiochus Epiphanes. Following in the steps of Alexander, he tried to force Greek culture on the Jews. Many resisted. It all came to a head when he took over the temple, offered unclean, pagan sacrifices on the altar, and erected an idol in the temple precinct. It was a man who was called Judas Maccabees (Judas the Hammer) who led a revolt, established Jewish independence, and rededicated the temple. Judea then enjoyed one hundred years of complete independence until Rome conquered it.
Hunnukah commemorates the rededication of the temple. It is like Christmas in many ways. First of all, it is not mentioned in scripture. So it is a man made tradition, just like Christmas. It also has a lot of baggage with it as well, just like Christmas. What did Jesus, as a Jew, do with this holiday?
How can we answer that question if it is not mentioned anywhere in scripture? Actually it is mentioned in scripture. It is mentioned not in the Old Testament, but in the new.
"At that time the Feast of the Dedication took place at Jerusalem; it was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple in the portico of Solomon. The Jews then gathered around Him, and were saying to Him, "How long will You keep us in suspense? If You are the Christ, tell us plainly. Jesus answered them, "I told you, and you do not believe; the works that I do in My Father's name, these testify of Me. But you do not believe because you are not of My sheep. My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me; and I give eternal life to them, and they will never perish; and no one will snatch them out of My hand (John 10:22-28)."
What did Jesus do? Actually, it is more interesting to note what he did not do. First of all, he did not boycott the festival even though it was a made-made tradition with all kinds of baggage. Second, he did speak out against it or oppose it.
So what did he do? He went to the temple. He went to "church," so to speak. He then used the day as an opportunity to teach.
Nothing is demanded or denounced in regard to the observance of Christmas as a holiday. What would Jesus do? If you want to follow in the steps of Jesus, then donít boycott it or oppose it. Use it as an opportunity to teach. If there is any time of year when people are open to hearing about Christ, it is Christmas. Every year, you are handed a coin of opportunity. You can either bury it in the ground, or use it to bear fruit. What better time to teach people the true meaning of the incarnation. It not just about a baby in a manger, it is about God coming down to us. It is about the Gospel. It is about his death four our sins, his burial, and his resurrection. Jesus born to die for us and calls us to repent. He calls live the way we do at Christmas every minute of every day of every year to honor him. Good will to men is a lifestyle, not a holiday tradition. If there is any time when people will listen, it is Christmas.